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Responsible Mining in the Elk Valley

Responsible Mining in the Elk Valley

Teck operates four steelmaking coal mines in the Elk Valley of British Columbia which employ over 4,000 people. We raise our families in the valley, fish and swim in the river and care deeply about ensuring the environment is protected. That’s why we’re focused on responsible mining and ensuring that the environment and water quality are maintained in the valley now and for generations to come.

Water Quality in the Elk Valley

Water quality challenges in the Elk Valley are connected to the long history of mining in the region. The mining process generates large quantities of leftover rock that contains naturally-occurring substances such as selenium, an element that is essential for human and animal health in small amounts. Water from both precipitation and runoff flows through these rock piles and carries selenium and other substances, such as nitrate, into the local watershed. If present in high enough concentrations in the watershed, these substances can adversely affect aquatic health.

Developing the Elk Valley Water Quality Plan

In 2013, in consultation with the Government of BC, the Ktunaxa Nation, scientists, and local communities, Teck developed the Elk Valley Water Quality Plan, which was approved by the Provincial Government in 2014. This is a long-term plan with the goal of stabilizing and reversing the trend of selenium, calcite and other constituents and improving the health of the watershed, while at the same time allowing for continued sustainable mining in the region.

Implementing the Elk Valley Water Quality Plan

Teck has made significant progress implementing the Elk Valley Water Quality Plan. Water treatment facilities are operating now that are successfully improving water quality with more facilities planned and under construction.

Our first water treatment facility is successfully treating 7.5 million litres of water per day at our Line Creek operation and we are seeing reductions in selenium and nitrate concentrations downstream.

Our second water treatment facility at our Elkview Operations has been operating since 2018, removing selenium and nitrate. The capacity of this facility was doubled in 2020 to treat up to 20 million litres of water per day.

Our third water treatment facility is currently under construction at our Fording River Operations and is expected to come online in 2021 with capacity to treat up to 20 million litres of water per day.

Our fourth water treatment facility, also located at Fording River Operations, is currently under construction and is planned for commissioning in 2021 with capacity to treat up to 7 million litres of water per day.

Right: Water treatment facilities built, under construction and planned (click to enlarge)

 

Increasing water treatment capacity

In 2021, we expect to have capacity to treat more than 54 million litres per day – nearly three times our 2020 treatment capacity. We expect further significant reductions of selenium and nitrate as additional facilities come online.

 


Elk Valley Water Quality Plan Progress

 Elk Valley Water Quality Plan Progress

Teck is implementing the Elk Valley Water Quality Plan (EVWQP), a long-term approach to address the management of selenium and other substances released by mining activities in the Elk Valley.

Learn more about Teck’s progress implementing the Elk Valley Water Quality Plan

LEARN MORE

Implementing source control

As part of the Elk Valley Water Quality Plan, Teck is researching and implementing methods to control selenium and nitrate release at the source.

Geo-synthetic covers

Geo-synthetic covers are low permeability synthetic membrane barriers placed over top of a waste rock pile to reduce water percolating through waste rock and carrying selenium and nitrate into the watershed.

Geo-synthetic Cover Illustration
 Water Diversion Illustration


Water Diversions

Clean water diversions can reduce the volume of water affected by waste rock, thereby reducing the amount of water that needs to be treated. 

Reducing nitrate

Our comprehensive research and development program led to the development of a new nitrate prevention technique that uses liners that prevent explosives with nitrate from coming in contact with water. This technique is currently being installed across our operations in the Elk Valley. In 2021, the majority blast holes will contain a liner that will significantly reduce nitrate at the source and help to protect water quality.

Progressing treatment and remediation for calcite

Calcite occurs naturally, but its formation can be accelerated by runoff water from mines. It is not a human health concern, but excessive calcite build-up can change the characteristics of streambeds, affecting habitat for fish and invertebrates.

Teck has built five treatment facilities that are using proven, effective and safe antiscalant-based calcite mitigation technology that prevent further spread of calcite formations to maintain good substrate quality in tributaries and rivers downstream of mining. Further to calcite precipitation mitigations, Teck is also working towards calcite remediation to restore habitat. 

One of five treatment facilities to prevent further spread of calcite formations 


Monitoring

We are conducting extensive studies and monitoring of water quality and aquatic health which includes regular water quality monitoring at more than 100 locations in the Elk Valley. Monitoring shows that selenium concentrations have been reduced downstream of our water treatment facilities and we expect further significant reductions as more facilities come online. Based on scientific understanding of selenium, the current concentrations are not expected to impact fish populations. Monitoring and research reports are available here.

Water sampling conducted at Greenhills Operations

Water Treatment Technologies

The Elk Valley Water Quality Plan includes the adoption of new technologies and management approaches as further advancements in technology are achieved through this program. Teck has undertaken a comprehensive research and development program that has led to the development of breakthrough technologies including:

  • Saturated Rock Fill technology to treat mine-impacted water.

  • The development of a new nitrate prevention technique that uses liners that prevent explosives with nitrate from coming in contact with water.

Teck has more than 25 research and development projects underway, including the advancement of smaller, in-situ water treatment facilities that can be built closer to where treatment is needed.

“Teck’s use of saturated rock fills to treat mine-affected water is leading-edge sustainable technology. Saturated rock fill is extremely effective at removing selenium and nitrate from mine affected water and improving water quality” — Dr. Lisa Kirk, an affiliate professor in Montana State University’s Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, who helped develop saturated rock fill technology.

 

Saturated Rock Fills use naturally-occurring biological processes in former mining areas that have been backfilled with rock and saturated with water to remove selenium and nitrate:

  1. Water for treatment is injected into the SRF

  2. Natural bacteria convert dissolved forms of selenium into a solid form which remains securely stored in the SRF and nitrate to inert nitrogen gas which is safely released

  3. Treated water is pumped out of the SRF and discharged

The benefits of SRF over other forms of water treatment:

  • Quicker to build and less complex to operate

  • Lower capital and operating costs

  • Treat larger volumes of water

  • Use less energy

  • Smaller environmental footprint

“Teck’s use of saturated rock fills to treat mine-affected water is leading-edge sustainable technology. Saturated rock fill is extremely effective at removing selenium and nitrate from mine affected water and improving water quality” — Dr. Lisa Kirk, an affiliate professor in Montana State University’s Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, who helped develop saturated rock fill technology.

This biological treatment process removes nitrate and transforms selenium into a solid form through a process that includes the following steps:

  • Biological treatment to convert dissolved forms of selenium to solid form

  • Nitrate is converted into inert nitrogen gas and safely released

  • Solid selenium is extracted and safely disposed of in a secure onsite waste facility

  • Treated water is discharged

Research and Monitoring Reports

Research and Monitoring Reports
Results of ongoing water quality research and monitoring undertaken as part of the Elk Valley Water Quality Plan.
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Teck

Teck is a diversified resource company committed to responsible mining and mineral development with major business units focused on copper, steelmaking coal and zinc, as well as investments in energy assets.